3 Tips for Disconnecting from Work After Hours

Today’s “always on” society fosters a workaholic attitude, making work-life balance difficult, at best. It can feel good to know you’re working long hours and dedicating your all to your business initiatives, right?

The thing is, though, you’re not getting as much done as you think. After you hit the 50-hour mark, your productivity declines, says science. And when you hit 55 hours? You could work 70 hours a week and still get nothing more done than you had at the 55-hour point.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Even when employees are paid for that overtime – there are consequences to working such long hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have an entire web portal dedicated to the effects of overworked Americans. Sleep deprivation is a major issue, affecting productivity as well as health. In fact, a 2011 Harvard study showed lost sleep costs the American economy $63.2 billion per year.

Since you can’t do anything about the non-stop connectivity, it’s up to you to learn how to deal with it. Here’s how.

  1. Schedule Time Off for Fun Stuff

If you can schedule your work day, then you can build leisure time into that schedule. Force yourself commit to doing something fun – even if it’s just taking a nap in the middle of the day after a long week – to keep from getting disproportionately engrossed in your work.

Keep your schedule flexible enough to look ahead at possible activities, and whenever possible, build your workload around those extra-curriculars. Is there a concert you were thinking of maybe going to next month? Great – buy the tickets today. Within a week of the event, notify your clients, team members and other stakeholders you’ll be away, and when you’ll be back. Go see the show, worry free, and deal with work when you get back.

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As you schedule time off for fun stuff, make sure you’re also building in time each week to rest and relax. Staying in “Go! Go! Go!” mode all the time – whether it’s for work or for fun – isn’t good for you. You’re not doing yourself, or your business, any favors when there’s no time to stop and smell the flowers.

  1. Establish a Schedule with Limits

While many people schedule themselves to work Monday-Friday, think about your lifestyle and how you may need to adjust that schedule to work better for you. You don’t necessarily need to follow convention. For instance, if your spouse is off on Sunday and Monday, maybe you could work Tuesday through Saturday, leaving Sunday to be a family fun day and Monday to be a day for you and your spouse to connect and recharge while the kids are at school.

If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule yourself to work starting early in the morning. You’ll just dread going to work, and it will likely take you longer to get to your most productive flow than if you just scheduled yourself to work later.

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Once you have your ideal start and stop times sorted out, schedule a few small breaks throughout your day, limiting the amount of time you spend on any particular task. For instance, check your email only once in the morning for 15 minutes, mid-day for 10 minutes and at the end of the day for another 10 minutes.

So what’s the ideal work-break cycle to aim for? Research shows the top 10% of productive employees work for 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break, and repeat.

  1. Learn to Ignore Your Email After Hours

When you’re not at work – whether you’re at home with your family, out with friends, or on vacation – don’t answer email. If the notifications on your phone make it tempting to peek, change the settings. Silence alerts after a certain time of day. Your email will still be there in the morning, and you can address it then.

In short, when you’re in relaxation mode, make sure you’re able to be fully present in relaxation mode.

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If you absolutely must look at email, only respond to true emergencies. If you immediately respond to all your email, then all you’re doing is setting the wrong expectations about response time and encouraging more late-night emails from other people.

Consider using an auto responder that you turn on every day after work. Use it to alert people regarding your availability hours, and include a phone number for emergency calls and texts. If this information starts to be abused and used for non-emergencies, simply remove it from the auto responder.

Get Proactive About Inactivity

Setting yourself up for optimum productivity, and achieving work-life balance takes time. It will likely be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, because you’ll always be tempted to check in and see what’s going on at work. And even if you manage to take control and settle into a viable groove, there will always be stimuli beckoning you back into the traps of bad batterns.

However, with determination, you can learn to truly disconnect from work after hours. And believe me when I say it’s worth the effort.

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